On March 5th, the Department hosted 22 girls from Oregon middle schools who were taking part in the “Discovering the Scientist Within” Workshop (http://oregonstate.edu/dept/cosey/dsw) .

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The students came to the free half-day workshop to learn about the wide range of career options for women in science, technology, engineering and math. 100 girls chose from a range of activities (physics was one option) hosted across campus. Through hands-on activities, they find out what it’s like to work in different careers. Participants have a chance to interact with professional women who work in a variety of fields. And they have a chance to meet other girls who share their interests.

Many thanks to the OSU students, staff and faculty (Liz Gire) who shared their time and enthusiasm with the girls.

The Physics Outreach team visited Hoover Elementary School on Thursday March 3rd. 160 kids came with their parents to play with our physics demonstrations and ride the physics hover craft. Each child left with a pair of “rainbow diffraction glass”, pictured below.


Here are some photos of OSU grad students (Lee Aspitarte and Jay Howard), and undergrad (Ryan Bailey-Crandell) explaining physics at the event:

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Many thanks to all the OSU student volunteers: Lee Aspitarte, Ryan Bailey-Crandell, Jake Bigelow, Morgan Brown, Jay Howard, and MacKenzie Lenz. Faculty/Staff volunteers Clarissa Amundsen, Ethan Minot and Jim Ketter.

To learn more about Physics Department Outreach Events visit our outreach webpage. If you are interested in volunteering to help with outreach events, please contact Ethan Minot.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100


hovercraft here

There was a buzz of excitement amongst the kids lined up underneath the sign “hover craft here”. The OSU Physics road show was at Periwinkle Elementary School in Albany to be part of the school’s annual “Family Science Night” on Thursday Feb 25th.

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As kids lined up to ride the hovercraft, they enjoyed physic demos on two tables. They learned how to make their own hovercraft using an old cd, a balloon and a bottle cap. They tried out rainbow diffraction glasses that turn white light into a rainbow of colors. They used a hair drier to levitate a ping pong ball, and then used the same hair drier to lift up a 1kg weight. “Wow!”

200 kids brought their families to interact with our exhibits. All the kids went home with their own pair of rainbow diffraction glasses and stories about their hovercraft adventure.

Many thanks to OSU student volunteers: Jay Howard, Kelby Peterson, Evan Peters, MacKenzie Lenz, and James Haggerty. Faculty volunteers Heidi Schellman and Ethan Minot. And Physics Staff Jim Ketter and Clarissa Amundsen.

To learn more about Physics Department Outreach Events visit our outreach webpage. If you are interested in volunteering to help with outreach events, please contact Ethan Minot.


“I can say without hesitation that it has changed my life. The sort of career that I want to have is much closer than a hazy dream now. It feels real, like something I can reach out and touch if I work hard enough at it.”


networkingThe APS CUWiP at Oregon State University was one of nine Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics that took place simultaneously across the United States on 15-17 January, 2016. At the OSU CUWiP, 140 undergraduate women physicists from the Northwest gathered at LaSells Stewart Center to present their research, to tour science facilities, participate in workshops, and to network with women professionals and with their peers. They spent an evening over dinner asking professionals from industry, academia and national labs about the many different careers they might pursue.

The weekend began with tours of science facilities in Corvallis, including Hewlett Packard’s analytical labs, OSU’s Physics labs, Electron Microscope facility, TRIGA reactor, Robotics Lab and the Hinsdale Wave Research Lab.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 2.36.12 PMParticipants heard an inspiring description of What Access Really Means by Mary James, Dean of Diversity at Reed College. Together with 1400 peers from the other CUWiP sites across the country, they heard Ginger Kerrick describe how her physics degree led her to the position of Capsule Commander at NASA. Natalie Roe, Director of Physics at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, described how research from the sub-atomic scale to the astronomical scale proceeds at her National Lab. Laura King, from Hewlett Packard, led them through an example of a STEM-in-the-private-sector career path from a startup company to large-scale industry. The questions from the participants kept coming, and one student summed up her experience afterwards, “I can say without hesitation that it has changed my life. The sort of career that I want to have is much closer than a hazy dream now. It feels real, like something I can reach out and touch if I work hard enough at it.”

discussionThe students engaged in selected workshops that fit their interests. They chose among workshops to help them chart a path through graduate school, to craft a compelling resume, and to present their successes confidently. Some learned about interactive teaching techniques and others explored the transition from community college to a four-year college and how to take advantage of the opportunities to prepare for the next step in a career. Another student said: “There were so many great takeaways from this conference and I am extremely grateful and appreciative …”

posterThe poster session / resource fair was a great success. The students brought their research to Corvallis and spent an afternoon presenting it to their peers and to the many volunteers from regional colleges, universities and companies who came to support the event. LaSells was abuzz with science! There was plenty of time for discussion and networking. Over lunch, the students discussed the concerns of being women in science and took the microphone to address their peers and report their conversations. A science trivia night and a “BAH-fest” added some science fun to the proceedings and more time to make new friends. The students left with the confidence that they will be successful in a field still dominated by men, some new skills and knowledge, and a network of women peers.

CUWiP was organized locally by the Oregon State University Physics Department under the leadership of co-chairs Janet Tate and Allison Gicking and a team of twelve dedicated graduate students. National funding for the event came from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science through a grant to the American Physical Society. Major local funding came from ONAMI, the OSU Research Office, and the OSU Division of Student Affairs. Many other OSU offices contributed generously as did local companies and individuals. A list of the sponsors is at http://physics.oregonstate.edu/cuwip/sponsors/

La Sells Stewart Center was turned into an interactive science museum for two days last week. Teams of volunteers from across the College of Science shared their enthusiasm for science with approximately 2000 school children during the event. In the Physics room, kids enjoyed hands-on demonstrations of angular moment, electricity, optical illusions, buoyancy and lift.

discovery days fall 2015

The Fall Discovery Days Physics team included Gregg Stevens, Tym Mangan, Corinne Brooks, Renee Anderson, Guang Xi, Tyler P., Kelby Peterson, Jihan Kim, Chris Jones, Sam Grimm, Sam Wiard, Amit Bashyal, Kyle Vogt, Jake Bigelow, Evan Peterson, James Haggerty, Ryan Bailey-Crandell, Jay Howard, Hiral Patel, Emily van Zee, Jim Ketter, and Ethan Minot.


Prof. Shane Larson, who now holds a joint position between the Northwestern Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, CIERA and the Adler Planetarium was recently elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his work in public education and outreach:

“”For impacting science and society through the integration of public engagement and research, and for empowering generations of future scientists by his example.”

You can follow his exploits as @sciencejedi on Twitter

Your chair (Heidi Schellman) knows Shane through her Northwestern days and asked him to bring us up to date on what he’s been doing since then.  We hope this will be the first in a series of Alumni profiles.

Shane Larson and his daughter Kate in Utah with his 16" Dobsonian telescope. Much better seeing in Utah than Illinois unfortunately.
Shane Larson and his daughter Kate in Utah with his 22″!!! Dobsonian telescope. Much better seeing in Utah than Illinois unfortunately.

Who are you?  What do you do both scientifically and for outreach?

Shane Larson: I got my BS in Physics at Oregon State in 1991.  I did my masters and my PhD at Montana State University (1999), then postdocs at JPL, Caltech, and Penn State. I was a professor for two years at Weber State University starting in 2006, then I was at Utah State University where I was tenured in 2013. For the past two years I’ve been a member of CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics) at Northwestern University, and also a member of the Department of Astronomy at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

I’m married to a PhD astrophysicist (Michelle). We have a 9-year old daughter (Kate), and three cats (Sierra, Xeno, and Lyra — yes, I’m the “crazy cat man” in the family!).

My research is in gravitational wave astrophysics; I was trained originally in classical relativity, but my interests and work lie at the boundary between gravity and astrophysics. Most of my physics friends call me an “astronomer” and most of my astronomy friends call me a “physicist” so it all works out perfectly, because they all think they can talk to me about the science that flows back and forth across the divide between the two disciplines.

My primary research is on ultra-compact binary star systems — binary stars comprised of two stellar remnants (white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes) in orbits roughly 1000 seconds long. This are excellent sources of gravitational waves (many systems are already known), and will be observable by future gravitational wave detectors in space. What my group is most interested in is what the detection of a handful of these sources can tell us about the entire population of remnants that fill the stellar graveyard of the Milky Way — these binary star systems are one piece of the fossil record of the stellar evolutionary history of the galaxy.

I do a lot of different outreach things. I blog regularly at writescience.wordpress.com on a variety of topics in science. When I was at Utah State University, I helped create and directed a program called “Science Unwrapped” which is a monthly lecture series coupled with face-to-face interactions with scientists and science activities after the lecture. The purpose of this effort was to bring a strong human dimension to our work as scientists. It was amazingly successful — from 2009-2013 we hosted 36 events with a total attendance of almost 12,000 people!

In my role at the Adler, almost all of my activities are public facing. Our professional astronomers spend time out in the museum every day talking with visitors and answering questions. We also do special events; one of my favorite things I get to do is watching science or science fiction movies here in Chicago, then answer science questions after the show for the people who came to the movie.

In addition to being a “professional astronomer” I’m also an active “amateur astronomer.” I build my own telescopes (I have a 12.5″ Dobsonian named “Equinox” and a 22″ Dobsonian named “Mariner”), and like to go to star parties whenever I can — I often go to the Oregon Star Party and the Table Mountain Star Party in Washington every summer. When I go to star parties, I almost always end up giving some kind of public lecture about astronomy and science; I’ve done about 100 talks in the last decade.

When were you at OSU and what do you remember about us?

I remember lots! When I came to OSU, I was initially in mechanical engineering, but I changed my major to physics three days after starting an astronomy class with David Griffiths. I’ve written a bit about that at my blog here: http://wp.me/p19G0g-7j

All my classes and professors in physics are still very vivid in my mind. I had intro physics with Carl Kocher, and modern physics with Janet Tate; I had E&M with Cliff Fairchild, Mechanics with Swenson, and Math Methods with Corinne Manogue; I had Thermal with John Gardner, and Quantum with Al Stetz.

I did a little bit of research with David Griffiths on simulating impacts in aerogels (the material NASA used on the Stardust mission), and a little bit of research with Corinne Manogue on super-radiance in the Klein-Gordon equation. I spent most of my research days, however, working in Jeanne Rudzki Small’s laser lab in the Biophysics Department.  There I worked in “pulsed-laser photoacoustic calorimetry” which is scientist fancy-talk for “we shot proteins with lasers to make them unfold, then we listened to them fold back up again.” 🙂

My early exposures to teaching also came at OSU; I graded Modern Physics for Janet Tate, and I worked with Ken Krane one summer on an NSF Young Scholars grant.